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Albert Vezza
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Albert Vezza is notable for his roles with J.C.R. Licklider, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Laboratory for Computer Science (originally Project MAC), the ARPANET development, Infocom creation and management, establishment of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), and support of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

David Walden:

When I first knew you, you were working with J. C.R. Licklider in his Dynamic Modeling Group at MIT. First off, how did you come to MIT?

Albert Vezza:

Upon graduation with a master's degree from Northeastern University's Graduate School of Engineering, one of my job interviews was for a position at the MIT's Electronics Systems Laboratory. The interviewer, a pilot in the Air Force Reserve, and I argued quite vigorously about the frequencies of Tactical Air Navigation systems that I'd worked on at Stromberg-Carlson. I left the interview discouraged with my prospects for working at MIT. A couple of days later I received a job offer from MIT.

When the project for which I was initially hired ended, I joined an Electronic Systems Laboratory team assigned to Project MAC. About that time, MIT Project MAC and the Technical University of Berlin were planning a conference in Berlin. Tom Cheek and Rob Stotz (our group leader) had developed a computer display using a Tektronics storage tube that communicated at 1,200 baud (full duplex) with the CTSS (Compatible Time-Sharing System). MAC's Assistant Director Dick Mills wanted to demonstrate that display at the conference. Other members of the group were busy; as the newest member of the group, I was brash enough to say that I'd do it.

An apparently simple task quickly turned complicated. For European compatibility, we needed a Siemens, not AT&T, modem. The dial-up network didn't support 1,200-baud full duplex, so I designed a simple protocol and a little circuit that turned full duplex into a half duplex, but we were not allowed to connect "foreign equipment" to the dial-up network. Thus, an AT&T line was leased along with time on ITT's undersea cable to Europe's dial-up network. However, ITT's onsite engineers in New York City refused to connect our leased line to the undersea cable. I phoned people up the ITT chain of command, demanding connection, until I reached an executive vice president. The VP called MIT's president, who suggested that ITT comply with my request. With our leased line connected, we next had to convince operators at ITT and dial-up operators in London, Paris, and Berlin that a quiescent line was still in use so they wouldn't disconnect the circuit. Luckily, it all was working about three days before conference started, and people around the institute knew of my efforts.

About that time, Rob and Tom were leaving to start a display terminal company, the group was disbanding, and I had my CV ready to move on. But Licklider, who was taking over as director of Project MAC from Robert Fano, convinced me to stay at MIT and join a new group he was starting.


The Dynamic Modeling Group?


I don't know how it happened, but I soon found myself managing the group—talking to students and staff members about projects that needed to be done, worrying about budgets, buying more equipment, and so forth. Licklider didn't have the time or inclination to deal with the daily activities of the group, but he was definitely the intellectual leader—a magnet for students and staff members.

Lick had several objectives for starting the Dynamic Modeling Group. One objective was the creation of digital modules that could be connected tinker-toy fashion, the way analog computer modules are connected. He also wanted students and staff to become immersed in real-time graphics experimentation and to become

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part of the ARPANET experiment he knew was coming. Along the way the experimental MDL (MIT Design Language) was developed, mainly by Chris Reeve but with help from other students and staff. We did experiments with an Evens and Sutherland display and with communication between our PDP...

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